A photo suggests that Dutch F-16 crews may have been training with the new US B61-12 from as early as 2021 – a year before the guided nuclear bomb officially went into production.

The image was spotted by the Federation of American Scientists in a video originally put out by Sandia National Laboratories in early 2022, to showcase the facility’s accomplishments from the previous year. Based in New Mexico, SNL is one of three research and development facilities operated by the United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

The picture shows an F-16 aircraft with what appears to be the shape of a B61-12 trainer among its armaments. FAS believes it belongs to the Royal Dutch Air Force based at Volkel Air Base due to the unique shape of a protective aircraft shelter featured in the photo. It suggests that Dutch aircrews have been training to use the B61-12 since 2021 – despite the aircraft not yet being officially assigned the bomb.

Image of F-16 with B61-12 trainer and side of protective aircraft shelter, believed to be at Volkel air base
FAS suggests the B61-12 trainer has been in use since 2021

While fighter jets like the F-16, F-15E and Tornado have completed integration flights with the B61-12, only the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber has been officially authorised to carry it. The F-35 is expected to take over the nuclear strike role from US/NATO bases in Europe – including Volkel. While the aircraft has not yet been officially assigned the B61-12, US European Command was scheduled to start training with it in 2023.

CND also believes that US F-35s based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk will be assigned a nuclear mission with the B61-12.

While US nuclear weapons in Europe are kept under US control, Dutch pilots – along with pilots from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Turkey – are trained for nuclear bombing missions during times of war under NATO nuclear sharing arrangements. Any US nuclear weapons mission in Britain would be undertaken by US aircrews.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“This discovery by FAS suggests that training with the B61-12 in Europe has been going on a lot longer than officially stated. NATO’s nuclear modernisation is in full swing with millions of pounds already spent upgrading bases like Volkel AFB and RAF Lakenheath to host the B61-12. The deployment of more sophisticated nuclear weapons to Europe won’t make us any safer – but it does ensure that our populations are on the front line of any nuclear war between US/NATO and Russia. This nuclear brinkmanship needs to stop.”

Featured image credit: Netherlands Ministry of Defence